Vergara Trial: California Judge Declares Teacher Tenure Unconstitutional
June 11, 2014

Score one for the billionaires. Campbell Brown is crowing about how the judge ruled in favor of 'the children' in Vergara v. California by declaring California's teacher tenure rules to be unconstitutional. According to Judge Treu, it's too easy to get tenure and too hard to get fired.

I see his ruling differently. What Judge Treu really said is that teachers are supposed to dedicate their lives to their profession, put themselves in physical danger (think school shootings, for example), put in more hours than their paycheck allows, fish into their own pockets for school supplies and even food for their students, and worry every day that they won't meet some arbitrary standard set by a billionaire or a charter school management organization for what constitutes an "effective teacher."

He further said that students bear no responsibility for their success or failure in school, nor do their parents. Teachers bear the entire responsibility for students' performance, regardless of those students' life situation and parental involvement. While they're doing all of this, they're supposed to submit to being tossed around like a political football during budget debates. ?

He's just wrong. It was laughable to read his ruling and see him defend what he's about to say by noting the political heat around the issue yet still pretending he isn't being political at all by making a sweeping ruling without any justification beyond his own offended conscience. I don't often criticize judges for their rulings, but there was no foundation under his declaration. Judge Treu's "preliminary opinion" paints everything with a broad brush without mentioning any of the contrary evidence presented by the state. Instead he said the number of ineffective teachers in California "offends the conscience" as if somehow those who oppose the idea of taking a sledgehammer to the tenure rules also think it's just terrific to have a few ineffective teachers. (They don't.)

The bottom line to his ruling: Judge Treu decided there must be winners and losers. For students to win, teachers must lose. Conversely, he ruled that for teachers to retain tenure rights, students must lose.

Neither of those statements are true. AFT President Randi Weingarten said it this way:

“While this decision is not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, reasoned opinion is disturbing. For example, the judge believes that due process is essential, but his objection boils down to his feeling that two years is not long enough for probation. He argues, as we do, that no one should tolerate bad teachers in the classroom. He is right on that. But in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, he strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice. In focusing on who should be laid off in times of budget crises, he omits the larger problem at play: full and fair funding of our schools so all kids have access to the classes—like music, art and physical education—and opportunities they need.

It's surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children. We must lift up solutions that speak to these factors—solutions like wraparound services, early childhood education and project-based learning.

“Sadly, there is nothing in this opinion that suggests a thoughtful analysis of how these statutes should work. There is very little that lays groundwork for a path forward. Other states have determined better ways—ways that don’t pit teachers against students, but lift up entire communities. Every child is entitled to a high-quality education regardless of his or her ZIP code. And no parent should have to rely on a lottery system to get his or her child into a good school. We must lift up solutions that speak to these factors—solutions like wraparound services, early childhood education and project-based learning.

It is also disturbing to see corporate school reformers like Campbell Brown out in social media comparing this to Brown v. Board of Education. This is a common tactic. They frame issues around education reform in progressive terms and hijack the debate with the full permission of people like Arne Duncan, who is as intent on destroying public education as any conservative, it seems.

Adam Bessie:

Like Sofia Vergara, the Beatriz Vergara case has massive cross-over appeal – and, the most powerful PR team money can buy. Indeed, Vergara is a significant milestone in the corporate reform effort, one that demonstrates that the multi-million dollar marketing campaign to rebrand privatization of public education as part of a larger civil rights movement has worked.

It’s no longer funny when Mitt Romney, or another plutocrat, snidely claims “education is the civil rights issue of our generation,” and blames unions and poor teachers for creating inequality (which he did, right after calling half of America lazy). No, today it’s now common sense to blame teachers for inequality in our schools – and, if Vergara is upheld, a matter of law.

The decision is stayed pending appeal. It will be appealed, of course, and it will likely land in the laps of the United States Supreme Court one day in the not-too-distant future. But for today, the billionaires can claim some scalps and plan for the day when profitized education becomes the rule, rather than the exception.

We are a hair's breadth away from watching our public education system disintegrate. How long do you think the good teachers will continue to teach when it means risking their lives in our gun-crazy society for no job security, no due process, and the constant attacks on their professionalism and their profession?

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